February 1943

The signs of the Allied bombing (1943) still visible.

Cagliari, Sardinia, was an important strategic base for the Italian Navy and Air Force during WWII being mid-way between the European Mainland and Africa.
Apart from the harbour, an important naval base, many important military airports were in the outskirts of Cagliari.

Cagliari remained relatively unscathed by the war until February 1943. In that month, the Allies (lead by the US Air Force) launched a series of strikes directed not only against the harbour, airports and factories around Cagliari, but also against the civil population. Cagliari was heavily bombed, not being appropriately prepared to counter an attack of this scale.

According to the stories that my grandmothers told me, the population was also unprepared and the initial wave of allied bombings took many by surprise (including my grandmother, who used to tell me she hid in an alleyway near the port during the first allied bombing, hardly an appropriate sanctuary against that scale of bombing).

After several waves of bombing, many parts of the city were left in a rubble, and after the spring many inhabitants of Cagliari, homeless and fearing for their lives (and the increased rate of crime and instability in the city) decided to leave what remained of the city. Whoever had the possibility moved to villages and small towns in the countryside. The citizens of Cagliari were often hosted in the villages by relatives and/or friends. The villagers shared their houses and whatever little food they had with people from the city with whom they often had very loose connections. It was a very moving display of solidarity between fellow Sardinians.

After September 1943, when Italy switched side in the war, Cagliari and Sardinia were occupied by the German Army. The German occupation did not last long however, as the Germans retreated to mainland Italy to strengthen their positions there. None of the atrocities perpetuated in Italy took place in Sardinia during the German occupation, also because no partisan movement developed in Sardinia during this period. When the Germans left, the American Army occupied Sardinia.

In my grandmothers' stories, the Germans were always described as orderly. On the contrary, they often referred to the unruly behaviour of American soldiers. The Americans however were pivotal in eradicating malaria from Cagliari. They heavily used the pesticide DDT to sanitise many areas, eradicating malaria almost completely. Until not long ago it was still possible to see walls in the town with a stencilled "DDT" and the date, indicating the date of the sanitation.

The picture above was taken in 2007. This was the rubble left by the bombing of 1943 in the centre of Cagliari, in the spot where a theatre used to be. Over 60 years after the bombing, it was still possible to see the signs of this event.
Soon after I took this picture, the rubble was eventually cleared, and the theatre has been renovated, although it remains an open-air, roofless theatre.

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